Q: Is it true that marijuana is more potent today?
A: The facts are conclusive; marijuana has gotten stronger. From the 1960s to the 1990s, the most prevalent marijuana in the U.S. was known as “brick” marijuana because it was compressed into brick-like molds to be transported from Mexico. Brick marijuana was not especially potent or high in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the active ingredient in marijuana that’s responsible for the high. However, with the introduction of medical marijuana in California in 1997 and the spur of agricultural production in the U.S., more focus has gone into perfecting high quality plants.
Legal recreational marijuana in Colorado now tests at about 18.7% THC, on average, with the strongest strands up to 30%. The way marijuana was tested through the 1990s was flawed — researchers were heating the plant during tests, which burned off some of the THC, although experts agree it was no where near the 18.7% average in Colorado. The University of Mississippi examined nearly 39,000 samples of cannabis that had been seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Results suggest THC lingered around 4% in 1995. However, the average soared to 12% by 2014.
What spurred the increase in levels of THC?
The short answer is that the recreational use of cannabis is now legal in 10 states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, as well as in Washington, D.C. Due to this influx in legal recreational usage, growers have begun pushing the envelope to develop and create new, stronger varietals. Marijuana went from an illegal contraband to a profitable national business in the span of only a few years.
One thing to keep in mind, while growers work to increase the THC, users often adjust their intake to match the potency. So, it’s true that marijuana is stronger than it was in the pre-1990s but individuals are aware of this increase and thus ingest less.
Substance use disorder is a risk to the growing business of marijuana production. According to the CDC, about 1 in 10 users will become addicted. However, for youth under 18, that number rises to 1 in 6. Signs of substance abuse include: failing to be able to quit, choosing substances over social activities, and seeing clear problems at home, work, or school. The drug can also affect attention, learning, and memory. If you or loved ones observe these persisting symptoms, contact a professional.